100th season… such a huge accomplishment in all of sports, such a disappointing result. This is their last chance at tremendous result, in such a tenuous situation, set of for a tumultuous result. No team has won once in every decade like the Habs have to this point, yet their last Stanley Cup was 93 and they haven’t been considerable contenders since. Not only is this an anniversary season but it is the last chance this decade to keep the dream alive.
And, now, they do it sans franchise name Guy Carbonneau in yet another shuffle on the bench in the East. After watching the floundering Penns and the under-performing Rangers and the long-shot ‘Canes make moves and put on the pressure, the Canadians decided to shuffle the stack with general manager Bob Gainey behind the bench.
Carbonneau is the latest casualty of the caustic nature of expectation. His players have had ups-and-downs beyond his control, his team was constructed under him without the feasibility of long term finesse and he is yet another example in the East of the coach getting canned when the extenuating circumstances were to blame.
Is the ex-Captain and prolific leader to blame, well, it depends on your perspective. Things started out so good for the Habs, the hockey-gods seemed to be so much on their side, but the recent slide in the standings and a lack of team continuity played into his untimely dismissal.
124-83-23 will land him a job anywhere he wants, but this season battling for a playoff spot that is now all but assured in the thick of the 4-10 spots, the desperate need of a proud Canadians franchise necessitated a change in short order. After an extremely lack-luster trade deadline lack of moves, only trumped by the playoff bound Washington Capitals, lent itself to a scape goat.
Carbonneau is a god among legends as a player, but as a bench-minder he’s been dealt less a hand than his powerful play on the ice could mean. Gainey runs the Habs similar to Lou Lamoriello runs the Devs, and doesn’t take anything less than success for an answer. Have all of Gainey’s moves been right, well, only Stanley Cups will tell, but judging by Lou’s track record or that of say George Steinbrenner with the Yankees in the 70s and 90s or perhaps maybe Jerry Jones with the Cowboys in the 90s there aren’t many examples to look to.
Price was a huge bet this year and no backup really put him in the hotseat as a youth. Has it paid off to go it alone this year? Probably not.
Inconstant play by superstar Alexie Kovalev has not helped. Same with Alex Tanguay’s play. Nor was loosing captain Saku Koivu for long periods. Nor is the lack of brute force from notroious George Laroque to really protect the skills.
Under-performance by ex-Cap up-and-comer Glen Metropolit in center and lackluster D by ex-everyone Roman Hamerlk and Mathieu Schneider, and Habs hopeful Andrei Markov isn’t helping either. Loosing vet Robbie Lang who led so many teams to the big tiem probably doesn’t help too. Add that in with failures by four year winger Andrei Kostitsyn and it becomes painfully obvious what is happening.
Can anyone turn the team around? Kostitsyn and Kovalev were effectively benched to prove points and Tanguay and Metropolit felt the wrath as well, but it hasn’t turned the tide or reversed the fortunes so it is only obvious that Carbonneau was canned, even if it won’t change anything with the short season left.
Could the team have been built better, yes. Could the players have come together better, yes. Could the late season coaching change help, yes… but is this now a Stanley Cup contender? Probably not considering what still stands in front of them and the super-high expectation weighing like a dead weight on their shoulders.
What really needs to happen to help them is nothing a new coach, or any coach for that matter, could help. They need Koivu back as a leader and they need Lang or someone else to support him. They need Price to carry the team on his back the way he did when they swapped him between the pipes last year when they let go of Huet and do what Marty Brodeur does for the Devs. They need stellar performances from Kovalev and Kostitsyn to end the season on offense and match the pairings of Ovie and Backstrom in Washington. They need Laroque to drop the gloves at every opportunity to protect them and put brute force back into the team they way people still back down from Brashier or rather, the entire Philly team. They need to find the positive plus/minus team play that is still carrying the Brues if nothing else, specifically all those mid-level guys that are carrying huge minus ratings especially on D.
Is this possible? Sure. On paper they are still a better, faster, harder hitting and effective team than most who are challenging them now for a play off spot including the Rangers, Penns and ‘Canes who are all resurgent post-coaching change… but the real question is, will this latest attempt at shaking up a shaky franchise make enough of a difference to carry them into-and-through the playoffs to the Cup? Probably not, considering the Devs, Brues and Caps at a minimum still stand in the way and they’ve got to get past those three stalwarts with essentially the same team they’ve been failing to battle with to this point.
Sadly, as much as I’m an old school hockey fan and rooting for the Habs on behalf of what would be a huge story for hockey on their 100th anniv to win and beset the Yankees as the greatest franchise of all time, I doubt it will happen.